Senate health care bill raises concerns about Medicaid in Knoxville

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – There’s new anxiety over what the Senate health care reform bill could mean for East Tennessee. A number of patients and doctors are concerned it will have a devastating impact on mental health and addiction treatment in Knoxville.

At the Helen Ross McNabb Center, people addicted to opioids enter a drug-treatment program, sign up for mental health care and fill their medication.

“They’re there when you need help or you get in a bind when you have no one to talk to,” said patient Audrey Furline.

For the last 10 years, Furline has been coming to the Helen Ross McNabb Center to get help for her depression. She credits the therapists and doctors for saving her life.

“I don’t know where I would be. I probably would be dead,” said Furline.

Helen Ross McNabb partners with Genoa Pharmacy to provide care to clients who are low-income, unemployed or homeless. A majority of the patients are on Medicaid.

“They don’t have a lot of private insurance,” said Davonna Foley, the pharmacy manager at Genoa in Knoxville.

The Senate bill as written would overall reduce the federal level of support for Medicaid. Health experts say not having access to proper treatment could trigger a downward spiral for some clients.

Foley adds, “We’re going to have some people go to the hospital. We’re going to have some end up in jail and some end up on the street.”

“If you don’t have access to the treatment you need and the medications that you need, then your symptoms are progressively going to get worse and worse,” said Michael Waltke, the senior director of adult outpatient mental health and recovery at Helen Ross McNabb.

Staff is keeping a close watch on what happens with the health care bill and Medicaid.

Waltke said, “Anytime that you remove services and you reduce that access to care, it definitely is going to have an impact on folks on their quality of life overall.”

A vote on any revised Senate bill is not expected until after the recess for the Fourth of July.

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